“That’s great, Echo. But get a load of this!”
This may come as a real shock to some of you, but believe it or not, some of us runners enjoy talking about ourselves. Incessantly and dramatically. Particularly immediately (and I mean instantly) after a race. I recall with fondness, and still just a hint of ire, the festival of self-absorption that I participated in following that memorable and yet tragic Smyrna Parks 5k (for lots of Me! Me! Me! details, see the blog from 9/3).
JK (entirely random name) and I were so enraptured with the stunning fact that we raced in a race that we felt compelled to break down every freaking second of the 21 minutes of it to anyone within earshot. Somewhere around the tenth time that I was describing, in poetic slow-motion, the way I looked at my watch at mile one, I noticed Cheryl’s expression. She had the glazed-over smile that says: “If I have to maintain this fake smile of interest for one more second, my entire face is going to crack into a million pieces and blow away in the wind.” And so, to be fair, I asked her about her race. I remember her mouth moving and some sort of sound coming out, but I have no idea what she actually said as I was, of course, thinking about myself.
Once, after the San Diego Marathon, I was trapped next to a middle-aged man who had written his hoped-for mile splits all the way down his left arm. We were riding the very long (I can not impart to you how lengthy) shuttle bus back to the start. The man–let’s call him Mr. Splits–was making a fairly large production of stretching his arm out so that I would notice his mathematical ornamentaion, but I kept my head firmly locked at a 90-degree angle, staring out the window raptly at nothing. Finally, when Mr. Splits had done everything but punch me with his big old math arm, he struck up a conversation.
“SO! How’d you do?” Splits asked jovially. This question translated: “SO! I don’t give a flying rat’s ass about your race. I want to talk non-stop, until your eyeballs are hanging out of your head on little strings, about my race. Every fricking detail. Right now.” This is, in fact, an excellent technique for luring unsuspecting runners into one-sided, get-a-load-of-me! race chat. I should know. I’ve enjoyed using it for decades! To use this technique successfully, however, you must (and this is critical) either tune out the other person’s response entirely or cut him/her off mid-sentence with a “That’s great!” before launching into the riveting minutiae of your own race.
“Well, it wasn’t my best race. I think the heat and…” I began.
“That’s great!” Splits boomed, using the often-overlooked combination option which, frankly, I had to admire. “Let me show you a little trick I’ve devised that got me my PR today. All you need is a Sharpie and your own arm!”
From there, the fantastic journery of the Inaugural San Diego Rock-n-Roll marathon according to Splits unfolded from elbow to wrist. I stared blindly at his arm wondering if there was a bar in the hotel, if that was a bad blister on my foot, whether frijoles would be a wise choice that evening, how many socks I’d gone through since 1979, whether “tabby” refers to female cats or is just a general description of the coloring of cats, and why the Vlasic Pickle Stork sounds like Groucho Marx. Naturally, I didn’t listen to Mr. Splits at all.
So in light of this longstanding tradition of the post-race ego-fest, this past weekend’s race was somewhat remarkable: there was an utter lack of braggadocio. Maybe it was the free ice cream, possibly the ear-shattering Dixieland jazz band, perhaps the cold wind that froze everyone’s faces (not that that kept anyone from continuing to shovel ice cream in them. By “anyone,” I mean “me.”). In any event, people were genuinely talking, enjoying conversations, and sharing (!) race experiences. It was….eerie.
I watched our local national-level 67-year-old wonder, Margie, crank across the finish line of the 5-mile race in 39:09. Let me repeat three items here: 67. Five miles. 39:09. That’s a state record! And yet, when I went over to congratulate Margie, she shrugged it off as though she had just pushed a stroller in a one-mile fun run. She looked around and said, “What a really beautiful day. That’s a great course, don’t you think?” Then she looked at Cheryl and said, “How did you do? I’ll bet you’re fast.” When Cheryl claimed that she wasn’t fast, that she’d only begun running a while ago, Margie smiled pleasantly and said, “Well, I bet you could be fast.” With that, she left to get some water. Stunning.
Next, a friend who is about as much younger than I am as Margie is older (confusing, don’t you think?) and who had beaten me in the final quarter mile seemed all but mortified to talk about her accomplishment. (I don’t think this had anything to do with me saying, “I must kill you now,” as she passed me, though, in retrospect, perhaps it didn’t help.) She had stayed right behind me for three miles and then pulled ahead of me and two other women near the end of the race to move up from 6th to 3rd overall. It was a pretty bold move, particularly for someone who had just begun racing a year or so ago. I figured she’d want to blather endlessly about it. I mean, I would have.
But when I walked over to congratulate her, she seemed entirely indifferent about her race. Embarrassed, even. WTF? And later that evening, she sent an email virutally apologizing for passing me. She was concerned that she was breathing too loudly behind me. She worried that she had ruined my race. She wondered if she had practiced poor race etiquette. The fact that she had set both 5k and 5-mile PRs seemed secondary.
I scanned the email to the end looking for a “Ha ha! Just kidding. I beat your sorry ass, you old hag!!” addendum, but there wasn’t one. She was serious. And a funny thing happened on the way to the bizarre oddity of post-race modesty. I actually wanted to hear her story of the race. And I wanted to hear Margie’s story of her race. I had no desire to talk about myself (blasphemy!). It was, understandably, an unsettling and funny (not ha ha funny) feeling, but not entirely unpleasant.
So, what is the moral of this long-winded story? I have no idea. But it was a nice change-of-pace to be surrounded by modest runners for one morning. Vaguely frightening in a parallel bizarro universe kind of way. But nice.